Strict Liability Crimes
California law includes a category of charges known as strict liability crimes, These are criminal offenses that do not require any “men’s rea,” or guilty mind, for an individual to be found guilty and convicted of the crime.
Understanding strict liability crimes is crucial for anyone navigating California’s criminal law landscape.
Examples of Strict Liability Crimes
A few examples of strict liability offenses include:
1. DUI (Driving Under the Influence)
In California, if a defendant’s blood alcohol content (BAC) is over the legal limit (0.08% for most drivers), they can be found guilty of DUI, regardless of their intentions.
The prosecutor does not have to prove:
- The defendant intended to drink excessively
- The defendant intentionally got behind the wheel
- The defendant aimed to cause an accident
They only have to show the defendant’s BAC exceeded the legal limit.
2. Parking in a Handicapped Spot
If a defendant parks in a handicapped spot, the police or prosecutor only has to prove that the defendant parked there. There is no requirement to prove intent or malice on the defendant’s part.
3. Driving Without a License
Driving without a license in California is treated as a strict liability crime. This means that the prosecution does not have to prove any intent to commit the offense, only that it occurred.
4. Statutory Rape
Statutory rape occurs when a person has sexual intercourse with someone under the legal age of consent (18 in California). This crime is a strict liability offense because the perpetrator’s knowledge of the victim’s age is irrelevant. The mere fact that intercourse occurred between an adult and a minor is enough to establish guilt.
5. Furnishing Alcohol to a Minor
Furnishing alcohol to a minor, or providing alcohol to someone under 21 years old, is another strict liability crime in California. The person providing the alcohol may face criminal charges even if they were unaware of the minor’s age.
Note on Defending Statutory Rape and Furnishing Alcohol To a Minor
Historically, the strict liability crimes of statutory rape and furnishing alcohol to a minor did not allow for a mistake of fact defense. However, defendants are now permitted to claim that they reasonably believed the minor was of legal age.
How Strict Liability Crimes Impact Defendants
For individuals charged with a strict liability crime, it’s essential to understand that challenging the accusation can be an uphill battle. This is because, unlike other offenses, proving that one had no intention or malice is not enough to avoid conviction.
Defenses to Strict Liability Crimes in California
While strict liability crimes may seem impossible to defend against due to their nature, there are still valid defenses an individual can use. The following are two primary defenses to these types of crimes.
1. Mistaken Identity
If the police arrest the wrong person and you did not actually commit any crime, your attorney will work to prove mistaken identity. This legal defense is often used with traffic cases.
Suppose your car gets stolen. The thief runs through four red lights, and you receive the tickets because the red light cameras snapped pictures of your license plate. You can hire a lawyer to fight the tickets by proving your car was stolen, and you were not the one driving.
2. Did Not Commit Crime
Another common defense to use against a strict liability charge is to prove you did not actually commit a crime.
If charged with a DUI, you can provide evidence proving that you either weren’t driving or you weren’t under the influence.
Preparing Your Defense with an Experienced Lawyer
When faced with strict liability charges, it’s crucial to engage the services of a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney. Before the trial, your lawyer can take the following steps:
- Evaluate the case: Assess the evidence presented against you and determine if there’s a viable defense strategy.
- Develop an expert defense: Compile evidence that supports your defense, such as witness statements, expert opinions, and documentary evidence.
- Identify legal technicalities: Determine if there are any violations of your constitutional rights, such as an illegal search, seizure, or arrest.
Representing You in Court
If the case goes to trial, your lawyer will represent you in court with the following strategies:
- Challenge the prosecution’s evidence: Attack the credibility, reliability, and relevance of the evidence presented against you.
- Present a strong defense: Advocate for your innocence by presenting evidence that contradicts the prosecution’s case or supports your defense.
- Cross-examine witnesses: Effectively question witnesses to expose potential weaknesses in their testimonies.
Sentencing, Mitigation, and Appeals
If you’re convicted of a strict liability offense, your lawyer can still help you in the following ways:
- Mitigate punishment: Work diligently to minimize your sentence with compelling arguments that highlight your personal background, character, and the circumstances surrounding the crime.
- Appeal the conviction: If valid grounds exist, appeal the verdict to a higher court, which may reverse or modify the decision.
- Seek post-conviction relief: Explore options for a reduction of sentence, expungement of the conviction, or a pardon.
Contact an Experienced Los Angeles Criminal Defense Lawyer for Help
A skilled attorney with experience in strict liability crimes can be an invaluable ally during these trying times. If you need help, we’re here for you. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation.
Last Updated on May 18, 2023